Guardians of Liberty: Part 20

20.

When the Cat’s Away…

N1T3 needed two things to repair the power. The damaged main component and light to work. He had neither. Problem was, he’d thought he had both. It turned out his cache of supplies had corroded in the humidity, eroding the protective coatings on PCBs and metals.

Not a problem for higher grade parts, but his were cheapest-grade metals. Stuff mass-stamped and printed in low-grade metal and plastic. Cost-effectiveness: double-speak for the most money with the least cost– ie, the highest ratio of sticking it to consumer-vs-likelihood of their rebelling.

Just another instance of the beast eating itself for want of control, N1T3 knew.

All the same, it meant going out again. A risk. More than that, a bad idea. No-one he knew would’ve allowed it. Corp-sec was out for blood. They had every intent and hope of taking it.
Blood. His blood; for exposing the illusion and corruption around them.

But he had to go. He knew the mistake’s repercussions wouldn’t be fully revealed for a while to come, but his gut said they were inevitable, inexorable. No human could deny that gut knowing, only defy it.

He had no choice.

The server fluxing meant it was just a matter of time before power went down. Even if he hadn’t been reliant on this and another hidden server, he’d have needed to come out and repair it A-SAP. It was almost unbecoming of his skill that he’d missed it thus far.

Forgivable as it was, he hadn’t checked his remote back-end. Not after Riter’s, losing the pier by luring Corp-sec there. Ket’s. He always knew it would be impossible to recover fully, but he’d had to give Ozell something to lead him to Ket, whose hands were all over this.

N1T3 had known the moment Ozell caught his scent, he was living on borrowed time. Getting caught in should-be-needless maintenance was taking more of what he already didn’t have. He needed time– to find some. But how?

He shuffled back and forth in the flat’s rear-room, prepping himself for the run and knowing any mistake could cost him everything. He ran through the plan’s broad-strokes, knowing the run would take him into populated areas.

Head down. Face hidden. Hands and creds only. Lift what’s too suspicious. Pay for the rest.

He grabbed an empty pack, jammed a couple essentials in it just in case, and started out.

Ostensibly, he’d placed himself to be separated not only from the general populous, but also, easy discovery within the place he’d sequestered himself. He’d managed not only general obscurity, but finer obscurity via exploratory disincentives.

As before, true security. Not an illusion of it. The only kind you can have; from confidence, and in having done all you can. The rest was knowing you must simply await the dice-roll.

He slipped into the empty street and dropped into the sewer. His server alerts had pinged him just after he’d fled Riter’s. He couldn’t have known they’d pinged, but he had worked out their cause. The broader one, not just the cheap components.

Word was getting out: through Ket first, her fountain. Then, $trydr’s servers. Riter had the whole place wired for personal surveillance. It would’ve been rolling during Corp-sec’s inspection. He’d run a search once he was back, but a growing number of power-hungry systems accounted for the flux.

Rome was coming online.

Weakened or cheap components often failed from unexpected voltage or amperage fluxes. It was the reason common PCs had used surge protectors for decades. Stress on a component, even if previously untouched nor taxed, fluxed from the grid’s excess draws. The fluxes themselves outright destroyed cheap or weakened components. Rather than a riding a steady strength of current, his had alternated minutely, frying a component’s conduits.

The why was the important part. Simply, more people were connecting to the grid and it was stressing what was already connected. What wasn’t prepped for it, was dying off.

Had to be net-based. Electronics usage didn’t double or triple without good reason. Nothing apart from the net was worth so quickly and cheaply tapping into.

N1T3 breathed, almost relieved; it was spreading.

He hesitated at a corner of a sewer line, angled right, and followed it into London’s populated outskirts. Auto-cars and non-drone delivery vehicles rumbled overhead between occasional, vibratory whirs of pub-trans vehicles.

The increase overhead came with the deafening roar of better-maintained sewer-lines. Still large enough for a man, but only just. N1T3 had to crouch, half-squat as if stealthing in-game. He kept his mind off it searching the echoes for water beneath, otherwise meditating on his revelation.

Fountains were spreading because digital information had pipelines. If it didn’t, he couldn’t have built his fountains, the repository-aquifiers that were his (and other hackers’) servers. They were the ones leeching the flow of power. He’d check later to verify, but the draw on the source would be equal, if so.

As water could not be drawn on without also draining it, one could not use the net without sucking power. Neither could not function without the other. That was the essence of postdigital reality. Innate as it was for N1T3, extending that knowledge to both micro and macro-level scales ensured he understood fully; the idea was spreading.

And Fast. The heat doubled with it. Again. He’d have to move even faster now, or he’d fail them all. The idea was spreading. Power was being redistributed to the people, but it needed proper dissemination to complete the vision. Postdigital reality required disseminating any accumulated resources immediately to those around, beside, above, and below. It was the automation of automation. If it did not function thus, it was useless, and so was he.

“He” however, also happened to represent true resistance to oppression. Recognizing it or not, everyone would be effected by his successes and failures. Fear brewed in his gut, quickly replaced by far more powerful forces of determination and conviction.

Reinvigorated, he doubled his pace.

The ever roaring cross-rumble above made his teeth begin to ache. Ahead, the line would split, turn him from sideline into mainline as the ground sloped and the pipes grew larger. When they leveled, allowing N1T3 to stand once more, he kept his gait short.

He knew better than to move any faster. He’d breached the perimeter of mainland populous, but he wouldn’t stick around or go deeper than necessary. That was why he’d come here.

The only inconspicuous street-access near anything resembling civilization was just beyond the edge of a piss-reeking alley. Mold, mildew, grime and soot climbed the alley walls, painting them a unique brand of filthy that smeared fine details into obscurity.

Civilization was deserted, yet-busy enough not to notice him. Even in the off-hour. He could grab everything he needed from the nearby convenience store.

He followed the alley toward a corner, beneath a small, lighted alcove; a routing area for the above-block’s power cabling. Situated in the zenith of the Alley’s grade so as to always avoid standing water, it was yet another necessity of concrete jungle-living. Though more primitive, these systems and pipelines more or less mirrored that of the net itself. Rather than supplying it directly however, it supplied its backbone; electricity.

It was the sign of its permanence. That such a spine existed meant tech was part of the landscape. That wasn’t changing anytime soon. N1T3 just needed to ensure it was known and capitalized on by the right people.

He made himself scarce; if he were cut off of caught near the entrance he’d have to find another way past corp-sec, their swarming loyalists.

N1T3 scoffed to himself, then rounded the alley corner for the street. Nobody was a loyalist to a system. Loyalty required connection on a level systems simply couldn’t contain. Though Humans and their love for pattern recognition allowed them to be enthralled by them, their nature remained unchanged.

What it amounted was the only person loyal to a corporation was either a fool or deeply confused. More often, the latter; however loud and voluminous the former.

Really, what people were loyal to beyond themselves, were ideas. Their own, reflected ideals of them therein. Any self-aware Human that took the time, saw that in an instant. Even if put it to different terms, “mine first” was the mentality.

N1T3’s vision so encompassed that idea, thereby affirming it via his own success, that he’d taken it the next logical step. Mine first, but after everyone’s we was ensured. The reason why was obvious: there wasn’t a guarantee of anything for anyone otherwise. That needed to change.

He kept his head down the block-and-a-half it took to reach the shop. He slipped in, careful to flip his hood off and shake the cold from his hair. Any more or less was suspicious. He kept his back and side to the cameras he knew were covering the entrances and exits, hid his face from the clerk by checking a pocket.

He hustled away, hidden in plain-sight. Careful of the occupied aisle, he sped past. Someone there; obvious in dreadful hints of desperation and shitty, night-shift coffee. Wage-slave, pseudo-loyalist folk; male by N1T3’s guess at the store’s layout. In its ol’ fashion, wannabe porn-mag aisle. The one its society was too polite to admit to having.

N1T3 loved the juxtaposition. The wannabe-exemplar and would-be smut. It was the essence of postdigital living. The duality of life. Of binary idiocy and indifference– because it was both and so much more.

And about to bring him to the precipice of death.

N1T3 slipped past the occupied aisle, completely unaware of the utter boredom of the wage-slave. To his credit, the guy was lucky to have seen him at all. So absorbed was he in his pseudo-culture, he’d been obsessing over Martin Black since his appearance in the media. He was fascinating for all the most mysterious reasons.

But because of the wage-slave’s system, interesting was bad. It had been hammered into the drones of corporate-moulding that anything wishing so intimately to be known was a bad thing. That was not exactly the case, N1T3 knew. Rather, it was the thing’s methods, the avenues it took toward infamy and fame, that dictated whether it was a “bad thing” or not.

The man was a dormant, would-be N1T3, catching the actual N1T3’s passing.

Before N1T3 had even rounded the next aisle’s corner, the man was carefully fleeing to alert his overlords.

N1T3 wouldn’t have blamed him, even if aware and given a chance.

Instead, he grabbed his purchases, subtly palmed and pocketed the rest, and approached the clerk. They avoided eyes as long as possible, said nothing as the few, minor items rang audibly through the silence.

Then; sirens screaming. Buzzing drones. Heavy, armored vehicles roared into earshot.

He eyed the clerk, instantly knowing he’d recognized him. More than that, the lightning exchange between he and N1T3 confirmed he’d not only pegged him the moment he’d come in, but hadn’t exposed him.

The place was one body less and the clerk’s eyes said it.

“The back. Go.”

N1T3’s eyes met the man’s, exchanging volumes. He knew him, if only by reputation. It wouldn’t have taken much to connect N1T3 to Martin Black, the two to him. The tacit admission of dire kinship was enough. Yet his gratitude could never be repaid.

He fled for store’s rear-exit, grabbed a pair of heavy, glass bottles as he passed. He jack-rabbited into the alley behind the store. Corp-sec’s first commands fanned out man and drone alike. Boots and shouts surged for the shop. Drones soared upward. N1T3 caught a flicker of one just as he dove into cover beneath an awning and behind a dumpster.

The sky was hidden, but any chance of escape meant moving. Fast.

He chanced a peek around the alcove’s corner. Saw drones pass the alley. One broke off to investigate. He shrank back behind the dumpster. The giant, buzzing bee lumbered overhead, looking for all the world like a drink-carrier had fucked an RC-plane. Funny as it looked, N1T3 wasn’t laughing. No-one would have. Not when the Bee’s belly was loaded with dual 20mm cannons.

He took a deep breath and shrank further from sight. The drone hovered 6 meters up, its optics and software working to scan every inch of the visible area ahead. It could’ve easily entered the narrow space of the alcove, found him behind the dumpster.

He relaxed.

It hadn’t, likely wouldn’t. Its code didn’t require it to in this instance. For now, there was an acceptable margin of error. That wouldn’t last if the drones went on-alert.

The heiress to the drink-carrying fortune finally lumbered past, continuing along its path to scan. He waited until it was safely behind him, then bolted for the alley-exit. He hesitated there, peering out; Massive, turreted APCs and ninja-treated SUVs blocked the roads nearest the shop.

Bodies were already moving about, forming up at various points. They hadn’t reached the alley yet. Didn’t think the clerk would play them.

N1T3’s jaw set; Militarized tax-payer dollars could never have funded this. These weapons of war were made from corporate dollars, and the only kind of war corporations waged was for their bottom-line– against anything. The only reason for such weapons, N1T3 knew, was to fight the very people funding their construction; corp-consumers.

He felt bile rise and made his move.

N1T3 skirted the street in two, long strides, intending to cross into the next alley. He’d go into one; round for the other, then swing-back around for his entry point. If he found others before there, he’d drop in.

The middle of his first stride, a faint shout. Young. Male. Some punk-kid still shooting blanks. Then, chaos. Madness. Screams. N1T3’s. Passers. Corp-sec’s. Sprinting, panting. Gunfire.

N1T3 found himself tumbling into an open sewer-line, completely unaware of how he’d gotten there. He’d managed to seal it up on the way in but hit cement with wet knees, his hands working but vision fading.

A moment later, he was against a wall and darkness was taking over.

His head fell to see his legs splayed awkwardly, wet knees barely visible in darkness. His hands were covered in more darkness– warm this time. He looked down to the darkness as it grew in his hands and over his eyes. Some seemed to be originating from his mind, some where leaking out into daylight.

The rest leaked from his abdomen, trickling from expanding tufts of white gradually darkening to red.

Then, nothingness.

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Guardians of Liberty: Part 3

3.

Gather Round the Stone

N1T3 awoke like a hungover noob, head ringing from an ear-piercing ping.

His net-scraping alert system was pinging his rig. Before collapsing like a lump of bled meat, he’d set it to monitor various search terms, and compile them for later review. Then, he’d used it to relay his story, his survival.

All the same, net-silence was witnessed in the time between sending and receiving his ping. The cause was obvious; the Hacker community had gotten the message loud and clear. It was scrambling. They wouldn’t have had time to recover from last night. Not yet. Not fully.

N1T3 figured his escape had fouled up corp-sec’s plans, but enough to save anyone else? He wasn’t sure. His story would’ve put to flight all but the thickest hackers. He just hoped it was enough.

Hope was still thinner than he’d have liked.

But stock had to be taken. Corp-sec couldn’t work in the day as it did in the night. Plus, a sudden repeat of last-night wasn’t possible. Corp-sec couldn’t run such blatant ops so often or even the light-net propaganda couldn’t keep the suspicion off.

And the last thing Corps wanted now was further awareness of what was happening. They’d take a loss before misstepping that greatly.

What was happening, N1T3 knew, was a corporate takeover. A total takeover. In fact, it had been happening for close to a decade. Roughly the same amount of time he’d been out of circulation with the general populous.

He now had only borrowed time, and not much of it. Not unless truly hidden again; an impossibility given he was likely at the top of corp-sec’s hit-list.

The Hackers wouldn’t kid themselves; a first volley had just been fired and a war declared. Would-be leadership was being targeted. N1T3 and others like him, murdered for the sake of the ever-hungry, corporate bottom-line.

Now was time for strategy.

In the game they all knew to be playing, the Corporations had just made their opening gambit. Not clever as they went, but effective. Then again, death– attempted or otherwise– seemed a hell of a lot more than simply effective. It was repugnant.

Especially in a world with no need for violence.

N1T3 and the others knew that to be their world. Even if it wasn’t a practical reality yet. It would get there, given time. Society had evolved infinitely more, better ways of handling problems. Violence was brazen and downright foolish for the damage it did.

In a postdigital world, even a little damage was infinitely more destructive.

It was avoidable, too so long as those individuals involved not already so vested, afraid, or lazy to otherwise prevent it. Well it had been avoidable. Even if no other corp-sec targets survived, rumors would get out– someone would learn the truth.

N1T3 rolled on his cot to stare at the grafitti’d ceiling. Eons of spray paint formed a base-coat beneath words and doodles in varying states of decay. Some were recognizable enough. Slogans were abundant. Written in satire or well-meaning mischief. None mattered.

Bits and pieces of another life attempted to rise in the back of N1T3’s mind. He held them back, falling from the cot onto the floor still fully-dressed. He’d been too wrecked to even remove his armor-thick layers of warmth.

Even if he’d wanted to, the adrenaline and exertion had taken too much from him. He’d collapsed into the sleep of the recently near-dead, then awoke wishing he hadn’t.

The irony was too palpable.

Childhood in the changing world of London had prepared him for irony, but not like this. London’s strive to remain prim, proper, and staunchly conservative despite being hollowed inside-out by crooks, corps, and here-the-under-sign’ds was a joke in comparison.

He fell to his feet, barely noticing their utter ache. He was never meant to be a foot-soldier in a battle. Rather, he was an intelligence officer. Unfortunately, in a battle for intelligence, he was exclusively targeted.

He managed a piss in the old bathroom. The plumbing and electricity still functioned via some overlooked allotment for the city. He’d spliced the power anyhow, so as not to draw attention, but no-one cared about excrement unless it was backing up on them.

In that way, N1T3 had upgraded. In every other way, he’d gone underground.

Trace-back the error.

Back at his workstation, he sifted remote logs from his old server before it went offline. As a general rule, all server logs were exchanged a few times a day. Usually, as little more than a boring, routine list of averages never requiring further investigation.

This time, the logs were off the charts. Alert codes in three and four-letter chains. Power-spikes. Voltage jumps. CPUs and GPUs maxing. Drives failing. All of it in seconds. Obviously, N1T3 was the cause. He’d written the program. Initiated it– just before being chased across a rooftop by sniper fire.

Still, it was nice to know his work wasn’t all for nothing.

He surfed the dead-server’s logs. Nothing. All routine. A few pings here and there, but all systems. No user-pings. All redirects. None explained anything.

He sank in his chair, a stiff, metal, folder he’d have to find a way to replace. Yet another of the victims of the night.

He winced:Chalk-up the tally.

The thought reminded him of Clockwork, An33$A. He realized how insensitive he’d been. Reality forced him forward. The night was over now, or rather, near to beginning again. This was his revelry, that moment of procedure that allowed one to take stock.

The damage. He hated the idea, but all involved needed to know the extent.

Over the course of a series of forum messages and links, he gathered the general feel for the night, what had and might happen:

Corp-sec had run a smash and grab op to crackdown on a series of bleeds in the power-grid. Not uncommon, especially in the inner-city.

Power was at a premium, after all.

It was harder to trace elsewhere where voltage didn’t dip naturally because it wasn’t taxed as often. So, they found it.

A hacker fucked up. It happened. A younger one. One still cutting teeth and shooting metaphorical blanks on a cheap rig. Probably with less know-how than an oyster sucking cock.

All the same, a near-freak occurrence given circumstances. Rather than run somewhere hidden, the kid ran a line in from a rooftop, splicing into an old line connecting one region of the city to another.

What the kid didn’t know was that no section of power-grid couldn’t be shut down entirely without losing sparse levels of surveillance. What, in effect, formed a fortress-cities’ outer ramparts, moat, and sentries. All points where the fortress walls met the outside world, corp-sec often checked.

Because the kid didn’t know shit, he missed that these were digital defenses. Requiring power. Simply shutting out power-hacks from those areas meant shutting out the areas themselves.

What were a few, slow-drip leaks in no-man’s land when the grid was taxed so much worse elsewhere? On the other hand, the taps going over the walls, or nearest them, were considered the most traceable.

It was the difference between tracing wires one at a time, or in giant telecomm clusterfucks.

Few people realized how important that obscurity was. Power was power. One electric, the other ethereal. The few that did, had little choice but to remain outside its cloaking shadow. The few that couldn’t, fought for survival everyday.

So, the rest took notes to better understand how to exploit the weakness or avoid exposure. Unless Humanity fell, they figured, the observations might be valuable to someone somewhere. But nothing was valuable to a kid-Hacker with starry eyes.

The universe is a big place, after all.

N1T3 wanted to curse the kid, that he’d been smart enough to figure out everything and bright enough to know how it all worked, but dumb enough to get it all so wrong. Worst of all, to write it all down– or at least something that had given something away.

N1T3 still wasn’t sure what.

He wanted to curse the kid, but fact was, the coming conflict couldn’t be avoided. It was Human nature, the consequence of self-guided Evolution.

Specializing in number-letter strings and strong hunches meant nothing against automatic weapons. They had their place certainly, but in Human hands. Not postdigital, post-Human hands.

Even the notes ending up in corp-sec hands through happenstance was fine, provided they did something benign or unexpected with it. Yet they knew its value as anomaly, aberration.

And seized it.

That was dangerous. Corp-sec had seen the power of Hackers, their value. Despite obscurity. Then, somehow traced them physically.

Anomalous enough, but N1T3 doubted even allowing for schemes, corp-sec couldn’t afford more exposure right now. Which meant he wouldn’t know how it had been done. Not yet.

And he might make the same mistakes they’d all, already made.

He needed time. However much he had would be less than he needed. Sure, if Gen-pop got wind of corp-sec moves too fast, media-spin couldn’t take effect properly.

But flip-side, N1T3 and the other Hackers couldn’t force the Corps’ hand either. And neither side could move without assured, widespread adherence to their orders.

Things not going the right way couldn’t be going any way. There was no room for gray here. There was only yes or no. On-off. 0 or 1. Anyone trying to find middle-ground would be swept into one or the other unwillingly. It was best to let things simmer as they were– if only long enough for the dust to settle.

He finished his recollection and research, then addressed his alert with his full attention; a growing archive of everything regarding the building he’d left behind, its surroundings, An33$a, Clockwork, other hackers he knew of.

In it were the countless attempts at exclusive snippets from various light-net media agencies. All of them fronts or affiliates of the big-4. Each sang the same tune; fire in an abandoned, London building becomes arson, becomes terrorism, becomes heroic peace-keeping gone awry.

And there, nestled beneath the updates, misinformation, and outright lies was Martin Black. At-large. Presumed dangerous. Wanted in connection with domestic terrorist activities.

N1T3 smiled; domestic terrorist, for coding. Typing. Calling bullshit. The corp-media was already pinning him as another violent revolutionary.

How they’d found him was one thing. Finding out who he was really, was another entirely.

Mostly, because the information was utterly useless. Martin Black had long ago ceased to be; had long ago become N1T3.

The latter’s infamy was built off legends his fellow code-jocks told of him. Originating in the old vets that knew him as the up-and-comer he’d once been, and the encyclopedia of history, tech, and code he became, he’d surpassed any and every expectation and challenge.

To Hackers that knew him, he represented something more, as a symbol of their innate ability to redeem. To revise. To learn and grow.

Yet, the reports shook N1T3 deeper than he liked. Martin Black was his name, his childhood, his life. A part of him forgotten in the consequence of time. Something phantom yet cross-fading eternally with the present.

At least, until the war was over. Now, it had only just begun. Who knew if he’d live to see its end? What mattered was ensuring the proper stratagem remained even if he– or no-one else for that matter, remained with it. In essence, ensuring the Hackable nature of society was always known.

If there was anything N1T3 was capable of, it was that.